Farscape: Why sci-fi, muppets, and old movie references make for an underappreciated gem that's ripe for rediscovery.

April 2, 2020

 

BBC2 after school was how I remember a big portion of my childhood. We had to sit through the trials and tribulations of the residents of Ramsay Street in Neighbors before getting to the good stuff, but once that was done it was all good. First up came The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, that would be followed by a double bill of The Simpsons, before moving on to a mix of Buffy and Star Trek depending on what point in the year it was.

 

There’s an argument to be made, by me at least, that this slate of shows is as integral to who I am as a person today as my parents. That might sound hyperbolic, but it’s also – perhaps sadly – very true. These shows helped form me in a certain way. Buffy, as you’ll know if you read last weeks blog, is my all-time favorite TV show. I loved it then and I still love it now. The Simpsons, meanwhile, at least those early episodes, remain as brilliant as ever, and I return to them semi-regularly despite the eventual loss in quality that show would suffer.

 

Star Trek has a lot to answer for, I’m sure, when it comes to my political leanings. The adventures of the members of Starfleet, especially those led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, helped shape the way I look at the world and the way I see politics.

 

But there was another show that slotted into that run. One that has had an equal or not more powerful impact on me, but also one that seldom gets spoken about.

 

Anyone who knows me personally has most likely heard me mention it before, but it’s not something I see get brought up an awful lot in general conversation. For some reason, one that is a complete mystery to me, this show seems to have been all but forgotten. Which is a shame not only because it is absolutely brilliant, but also because it is undoubtedly a key component of the evolution of television to the point in which we recognize it now.

 

Whether we’re talking about long form, series spanning narratives, or serialized episodic television. Whether we’re talking about thought-provoking sci-fi or psychological drama, this show is, as far as I’m concerned at least, a definite trailblazer. I can remember watching it at the time, mouth agape, drawn in entirely by its slowly unfolding storyline, it’s character development, and it’s awesome use of Jim Henson created puppets (they're muppets! Freaking sci-fi muppets!).

 

I am, of course, talking about Farscape. And if you haven’t seen Farscape, may I suggest you take some time out to watch it now, because all four series and the final mini-series are available to view on Amazon Prime.

 

For those of you who don’t know, Farscape tells the story of astronaut John Crichton who is thrown across the universe through a wormhole when an experimental mission of his goes terribly wrong. Alone and far, far away from home, Crichton is forced to team up with a ragtag group of escaped convicts, all members of different species, aboard the living ship known as Moya.

 

Now, that might all sound a little crazy, and it is, but just trust me on this one. As a show, Farscape is one of the earliest examples I remember of feeling like I just needed to tune in each week. The plot unravels slowly, with new twists and turns taking place within episodes you wouldn’t expect. Meanwhile the characters evolve and grow in a way that I was wholly unaware could be done in a television show before seeing it. My experiences with TV up to that point was almost solely episodic, and Farscape brought to me the concept of utilizing the medium to tell big, epic, literary stories that took weeks and months to play out.

 

There’s something almost Game of Thrones-esque about the way the politics of the show begins to interlink to the plot and to the characters. Disparate threads join together in unexpected ways, while the writing is never content with simply staying safe. Almost half a season later in the show splits our heroes up, and certain episodes will focus solely on a single group, meaning that we spend several hours apart from other characters before returning to them to get up to speed with where they’re at.

 

On the surface it may seem silly and bizarre. It was as Australian/American co-production, so the show has a sort of strange sense of humor that runs throughout, but that is just part of its charm. Despite the rather odd setting and somewhat silly cast of characters, the show is nevertheless a thought-provoking, adult story that takes the time to explore a great many themes and ideas through its own unique style.

 

It’s funny, quirky and incredibly creative and inventive. Science-fiction has always strived to explore new worlds and concepts, but Farscape really does take that to the next level. Every world, every species, every planet and ship and character arrives to us so unbelievably well realized and expertly crafted that the entire thing feels as real and sci-fi ever could.

 

And then there are the villains. Farscape villains are unlike any other. Especially the series’ main antagonist, Scorpius. A nasty, insidious, and all-round frightening presence, Scorpius is one of the show’s major selling points. Somehow balancing perfectly on the line between pantomime absurdity and downright terrifying, he puts John Crichton through the ringer in a way so few other series long antagonists truly do. And that's before we even get to the Harvey reference. Big rabbits will never be the same again.

 

Farscape is an unusual show, and there’s no denying that. No doubt it is not for everyone and, unlike Buffy, I fully appreciate that some people will simply not get on with it. But if you’re willing to take the leap and let the show draw you in, then I can promise you you’re in for a treat. I will forever be baffled by the fact that this show isn’t a bigger deal for movie and TV fans. It’s such a beautiful constructive, cleverly written, well-paced and unique piece of programming that it genuinely saddens me that more people don’t show it the love it deserves.

 

If Buffy is my all-time favorite TV show, then Farscape is a close second or third. It truly is a great piece of art, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to any fan of sci-fi, drama, or just television in general. You really have never seen anything like it.

 

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© Alex Secker 2018